Persona Poem – Helen Martins


July 27, 2017 by petrujviljoen

Helen, Helen, why did you hide?

I, who walked obliquely

(they cut off my little toes)

was a daytime furtive

a wizened, furrowed, wrinkled wraith-

I danced my shadow selves at night naked



Helen, Helen, why did you cry?


 Ugly and dirty long before

I lived even though I was pretty. The

serving and the serving. The serving made

me cry. After she and he and he and the baby died.


Helen, Helen, what did you create?


First thing I did was throw out the stove. Ha!

After that long night, the business with the

(lack of) light, the protracted shudder of grey

existence. Apprehended for the time. I. Being.



Living the numinous night

light uniquely intended, acutely created

the social realm transcended


an enigmatic conception of

Biblical proportion

I, tiny, wiry sparrow so called.


Three hours in counted normal time it took

lighting lamps, candles. The night. The ritual.

Softening. The ridicule.



Helen, Helen, how did you live?


I lived by the spoon put by the making of the

unspawned being, nourishment incomplete

 I stayed and loved and others fed. Me. When I

let them.


I lived by tremendous surge of suppressed

hunger.  Amidst banal accepted routine of

them who said they will. Like me, be like us.

And I? Couldn’t.


Helen, Helen, how did you die?

I died as I lived. By my hands, shredded,

bared  to crushed glass. Pierced,

punctured, consumed right through.

My ashes were in red. The owl was



Linked to Dverse Poets

About Helen Martins, South Africa’s most famous outsider artist.

I made this for the creative writing course offered at Novoed, Power of the Pen, Identity, Community and Social Issues in Poetry and Plays: The course has just started, into its first week, should anyone be interested in joining.

29 thoughts on “Persona Poem – Helen Martins

  1. Thank you for introducing me to this inspiring artist. As you wrote, she transcended the banal, the social realm, she must have been a brave person. I love her technique of overlaying crushed glass onto the painted walls.

    • I’ve been to the house. She got that crushed glass everywhere! It was perilous even leaning against a doorframe, one could come away with rather severe scratches.

  2. Passionate and heartfelt writing. She sounds like quite the woman. I’m off to learn a little more about her now. Thanks for the Owl door 😉

  3. MarinaSofia says:

    Ouch – a prickly, uncomfortable, powerful poem! I love the Q&A format and now I have to read up on Helen Martins.

  4. colorfulpen says:

    Loved the words and form! I read it without knowing who Helen Martins was, and then followed the link to learn more. Interesting stuff.

  5. Frank Hubeny says:

    This is the first I’ve heard of Helen Martins. Nice description of her in your poem and the link.

  6. I love this poem–the questions, the tone, the form… It makes me think of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, so much so, that I read it (half singing) aloud and it was yummily creepy.

  7. thotpurge says:

    Great form.. also loved the ending.. ashes in red…

  8. qbit says:

    Yes, so many wonderful lines in that. Well done!

  9. I read up on Helen at your suggestion some time back. And this poem is just astounding. Wow.

  10. Bodhirose says:

    Sounds like she led a heavy life but kept to her own path. I need to follow your link and read up on this amazing woman. Thanks, Petru.

  11. Very strong write. I wanted to know, wondered about Helen throughout the reading and I’m so grateful you included a link. The lives of poets and artists can give us such powerful inspiration.

  12. Your unqiue style of writing blow me away. Very impeccable, daring, and creatively spirited.

    I’m glad I read your poem wow! Truly, I am happy to read something different in ways to soak in all the imagery perspectives. 🙂

  13. Charley says:

    Wow! A powerful tribute to a powerfully inspired (breathed into, spirit-filled) artist. Bravo!

  14. jillys2016 says:

    Powerful words and form. I’m so impressed!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Available on Amazon

Available at

As the World Burns

Available at


Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material or any part of this material without express and written permission from myself is strictly prohibited.

%d bloggers like this: